Fox Business Network had the largest audience in its history for its Republican primary debate Nov. 10. Its moderators Maria Bartiromo and Neil Cavuto received praise from GOP party officials and candidates, who felt they were unfairly roughed up two weeks earlier by the panel of questioners on CNBC.
But presidential campaigns evolve quickly, and Cavuto believes he and Bartiromo are in different territory tonight when the cable business news network has its second GOP showdown in North Charleston, S.C., at 6 p.m. Pacific time (a free live stream will be available on FoxBusiness.com). With the first party caucus and primary less than a month away, there’s a chance one of the candidates for the Republican nomination will get desperate. Moderators can be part of the collateral damage in such situations.
“They know it’s getting very close,” Cavuto told The Times. “Some of them are going to throw grenades. It’s possible some of them are going to throw grenades at us. Even if Mother Teresa were asking questions they’d throw them at her. The fact of the matter as time runs short a lot of the candidates’ temperament runs short. That’s a whole new dynamic.”
Part of that intensity is due to having the seven leading candidates on stage – the smallest lineup of GOP contenders yet for a main event.
“It’s incumbent on us to stay cool and stay focused and not to take anything personally, recognize these guys are under enormous pressure and so are we,” he said.
Cavuto, who just signed a new deal that keeps him the anchor of Fox News Channel’s “Your World” and managing editor of FBN for several more years, said he tends to be “anal” about debate preparation, combing through every possible question and making sure every quote and statistic is correct. He also gets plenty of input from the business executives who come through his programs.
“Invariably they’ll volunteer, dependent on the CEO,” he said. “It’s often ‘If you get these guys, ask them how they are going to trigger growth and easing our tax and regulation burden.’ They all freely offer their ideas and I write them all down.’”
Most are fans of Republican front-runner Donald Trump because of his business background. “Those of a certain age admire how he has come back from financial death not once but twice,” he said.
When it comes to seeing Trump in the White House, it’s a different story.
“That’s where some of them draw the line,” he said. “There is a demarcation line between those who like his business acumen and those who aren’t big fans of his plan to slap a 45% tariff on Chinese goods.”
But there is no argument that Trump has been good for the debate ratings on the networks that carry them. Some of the 13.5 million viewers for the first GOP meeting on FBN have stuck around: The channel’s audience for daytime business coverage is up 27% since the week of that event, according to Nielsen data.